Turkey’s Erdogan Prepares Military Invasion of Libya

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pictured during a visit to Hungary earlier in November 2019
Attila KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images

Turkey’s parliament voted to approve the use of military force in Libya on Thursday.

The official word from the Turkish parliament is that its vote authorizing military force in Libya is “largely symbolic” and will not immediately lead to “boots on the ground,” but supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seem eager to help the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) decisively repel the stalemated siege of Tripoli laid by General Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA).

Roughly a month after the GNA appealed for Turkish assistance, the Turkish parliament voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to provide it. The vote, held during a special session, was 325-184 in favor.

Turkish intervention in Libya would trigger a complex series of confrontations, both diplomatic and potentially military, as Haftar enjoys support from Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, France, and possibly Greece – which met inconclusively with the general in December, but is quite conclusive about not wanting Turkish troops in Libya.

Russia cautioned soon after the vote that Turkish intervention in Libya “would only deteriorate the situation,” while U.S. President Donald Trump called Erdogan on Thursday to stress the importance of finding a “diplomatic solution” to the Libyan conflict.

International observers of the Turkish vote thought it would probably lead to sending equipment to the GNA and perhaps a few military advisers at first, although Turkey is already sending military supplies to the GNA in defiance of a U.N. arms embargo. Turkish officials have floated the possibility of sending allied Syrian fighters to Libya to reinforce the GNA, something Ankara’s critics accuse it of doing already in secret.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Wednesday he hoped the bill would be a “deterrent” to Haftar and the LNA, giving them plenty of time to avoid Turkish military action if they pull back from Tripoli.

President Erdogan’s staunch supporters at Yeni Safak, a national Islamist imperialist newspaper, dismissed criticism of Turkish intervention as hypocritical, given the interventions by foreign powers in places like Yemen and Iraq and the Gulf State blockade of Qatar. 

Yeni Safak insinuated Haftar is himself a product of foreign intervention, a puppet of the United States (which is only pretending to support the GNA or desire a diplomatic solution in Libya, it hinted) so Turkey has every right to move into Libya. The newspaper called on Erdogan to send troops into Libya and establish permanent military bases there “without delay.”

Yeni Safak’s editor-in-chief Ibrahim Karagul saw the shadowy hand of ultimate evil behind the crisis in Libya, terrorist attacks in Somalia, chaos in Sudan, and the Syrian civil war, not to mention Turkish opposition parties who do not want to invade Libya. That ultimate evil would be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, who Karagul accused of throwing the region into chaos to isolate Turkey and thwart its regional ambitions. 

“Turkey will foil this game in Libya. Barbaros is back!” Karagul exclaimed, beating the drums for war by invoking the name of a legendary Ottoman Empire military leader who did exactly what everyone is currently afraid Turkey plans to do by establishing a presence in Libya and locking down the Mediterranean sea lanes.

The GNA said on Thursday it repelled another air and ground attack by Haftar’s forces in southern Tripoli. The GNA reported one civilian was killed in the fighting, which briefly dislodged GNA forces from a military camp before they were able to take it back.

GNA spokesmen accused Haftar of employing “foreign mercenaries” in the attack and carrying out “indiscriminate shelling” of civilian areas. They described the front lines around Tripoli as “calm” but “uneasy” after a few minor defeats for Haftar’s forces, one of which led to the capture of 25 gunmen affiliated with “the war criminal retired Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.”

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